The Government's Befuddling Nomenclature
The Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden media circus' have unsympathetically shone a floodlight on the clandestine, abstruse and clever ways the US Government denotes relevant intel, the methods it uses to collect the information and who ultimately gets to read it.
It would be difficult to find many people who are bold enough to admit they believe that all information the Government accumulates should be immediately declassified and beholden to public scrutiny. However, there is a vast and palpable number of citizens and civil servants who opine that once the critical period of secrecy has been abated then the information ought to be freely disseminated.
TheWashington Post has reported that more than 800,000 people hold Top-Secret clearances in the United States. That is a monumental total of people who have access to various levels of government gossip and national secrecy. Despite that fact, the US Government had imposed a sliding scale of information gag orders which inhibits a free flow of information to it's citizenry. The opening phrase,“we the people” in the American Constitution, implies that the citizens of the US are the employers of government officials. As employers we are ipso facto entitled to know just what they've been up to. Whether it be digital snooping, Old Skool wiretappings and surveillance or self imposed discretionary memos and communiques; the people of the US have a codified right to “be in” on the secret not to forget a fundamental quid pro quo right: our tax dollars are paying for it.
So what are our rights, by law, to be privy to the secrets? An act of Congress was needed in order to bestow upon US citizens the right to view government secrets.The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was officially signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966 and took effect in 1967. FOIA is a law which mandates the full or partial disclosure of hitherto unreleased information and documents created by the United States government. FOIA is explicit in its wording to only apply to the agencies which fall under the Executive Branch of government. Formally, the agencies are subject to penalties for noncompliance and or obstructing the process after a petition has been filed for release of information.
Nonetheless, high profile subject matter, which is classified at some level of secrecy, is often seen as an overt governmental practice of dalliance.
The amount of reasons which motivate people to demand peeking at declassified documents is almost as vast as the categories of government secrets. Their latent paranoia might be whetted by the recent divulgences of unsavory NSA surveillance. Or maybe it's more prosaic like the apocryphal high level coverups of bigfoot, The Bermuda Triangle, and Area 51. A matrix of secret keeping is a tool any investigator needs to change conspiracy theory to conspiracy fact. Here follows a list of the varied levels of clearance and secrecy of government documentation: Top, Middle and Bottom Secret.
Top Secret (TS):
The highest level of secrecy. A code word is often attached to Top Secret in order to further refine who can view the information. If this secret were to be made public the government makes the assumption that it could lead to "exceptionally grave damage" of national security.
This information, according to the government, needs to be kept secret because it might cause "serious damage" to national security.
Information causing "damage" or is thought to be "prejudicial" to national security is confidential secret. It is often referred to as “classified”.
If this information leaked out then "undesirable effects" would befall national security.
Unclassified, Sensitive and Controlled:
These secrets are occasionally privy to eyes without security clearance. This is by far the most dizzying array of quasi-classifications are formulated in this level of secrecy.
Sensitive But Unclassified (SBU):
This is the level of secrecy which connotes information in the United States federal government requiring strict and limited controls over its distribution. It can be applied to For Official Use Only (FOUO), Law Enforcement Sensitive (LES), Sensitive Homeland Security Information, Security Sensitive Information (SSI), Critical Infrastructure Information (CII) ad infinitum. Including in this level are also Internal Revenue Service documents like individual tax records, systems information, and enforcement procedures.
PARD (Protect as restricted data):
These are secrets which are unclassified but sensitive and utilized by the Department of Energy.
Limited Distribution, Proprietary, Originator Controlled, Law Enforcement Sensitive:
The secrets here are all nebulous classifications of secrecy designed by the Pentagon attempted in 2011 to exempt from President Obama's Executive Order 13556. These are still evolving.